Pacific Northwest | November 23, 2003Pacific Northwest MagazineNovember 23, 2003seattletimes.com home
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CONTENTS
COVER STORY
PLANT LIFE
TASTE
NORTHWEST LIVING
NOW & THEN
LETTERS
PREVIOUS ISSUES OF PACIFIC NW


WRITTEN BY PAUL DORPAT

From Ruin, Resurrection
Photo
COURTESY OF DORIS CLEMENTS
The offshore reach of Yesler's Wharf is impressive, even after it was destroyed during the city's Great Fire of 1889. The contemporary scene steps back perhaps 200 feet to catch the ramps that serve the passenger ferries at the foot of Yesler Way.

 
 Photo
COURTESY OF ROBERT MONROE
BY A CONTEMPORARY'S description, Yesler's Wharf and the rest of the waterfront was "transformed to charcoal" by the city's Great Fire of June 6, 1889.

Stripped by the fire of its structures and planking, the wharf revealed a substantial foundation of fill and debris gathered through nearly half a century of serving as the community's industrial center at the foot of Mill Street (Yesler Way). This view looks east from near the wharf's outer end to the still-standing ruins of the ornate brick buildings that formed a show-strip along the west side of First Avenue for the two blocks between Columbia Street, on the far left, and Yesler Way, on the far right.

Here perhaps three or four days after the fire (parts of the rubble are still smoldering) the wharf is already being rebuilt. The fire obviously could not burn below the water line, and at low tide the best of the surviving stubs were capped and extended. The size of this scene can be gauged by the single worker standing on a beam right of center.

Barely visible left of center is a party of citizens in suits and dresses visiting the site. They are probably carrying the passes that were required until June 11. That day a local daily reported that the district was opened to the public and immediately invaded by "the curious, relic hunters, vagrants and thieves . . . All articles of value that could be found in the ruins were seized upon and many disgraceful scenes enacted." The military returned and drove the crowd out.

By the end of June nearly all the ruins had been razed, the debris removed and the fire district dappled with temporary tents for businesses.

Paul Dorpat specializes in historical photography and has published several books on early Seattle.

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